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Cameron: Give the UK's health records to Google

Government should look to Wikipedia for inspiration

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David Cameron has repeated his pledge to cancel the ContactPoint database and the ID card scheme if the Tories win the next election.

Speaking at the weekend, Cameron said the Tories would also look closely at the National Programme for IT - the controversial and expensive NHS modernisation programme.

Echoing last September's policy review, he called for a decentralised approach to replace the highly-centralised project.

Cameron singled out the "Electronic Patient Records system" as an example of Labour's wasteful spending. Imagining how the Tories might have implemented such a project, Cameron said: "You don’t need a massive central computer to do this. People can store their health records securely online, they can show them to whichever doctor they want... But best of all in this age of austerity, a web-based version of the government’s bureaucratic scheme services like Google Health or Microsoft Health Vault cost virtually nothing to run."

Google and Microsoft have both lobbied hard to get their hands on medical records in the US and elsewhere. Winning such a contract would guarantee revenue for years to come as well as provide a central reason to increase the use of their technology in healthcare - a new but growing market. There are also concerns about the use of anonymised records for pharmaceutical research.

Suggesting such a solution would be free is either wishful thinking or naivety. Likewise, a true handing over of responsibility to patients for their own data would be radical, even if not entirely practical - patients might not always be in a condition to hand over access to their own records.

There is no doubt that the NPfIT is a shambles - the National Audit Office reckons it is four years behind schedule. But the Summary Care Records project is fairly well advanced - hospitals and primary care trusts have spent millions on it already. The Royal Free reckons the project cost £16m. Given how contracts are written, it is likely that the Tories would have to pay almost as much to get out of the contract as to complete it.

A spokesman for the Tory Party was unable to give us any further details of how this may work. The British Computing Society is currently reviewing the NPfIT for the Tories, and its report is due in late summer. ®

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